Part 1: Gemma, Gareth, Mum and Dad
Night Location: Gibraltar, UK
Mumisode of the Day: "We are late. Terrible traffic. So sorry darling. We are 25km away. The border control people are quite mad. Hang on. We are speeding as much as possible. Love Mum." This was a text message sent to Gemma. It was accompanied by a lot of ranting in the car according to Dad.
Massive day today. Gareth scored another country and Gemma a new continent and a new country. Not a bad effort really. Gibraltar sits so tantalisingly close to Africa it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
After a glorious night in the cool and quiet, everyone was up early for breakfast as there was a lot to fit into the day. Our first adventure was to actually go up the 'Rock of Gibraltar'. We had the choice of walking or travelling via cable car and we chose the latter. Surprised? The rock stands at 492m above sea level and this ascent is completed in six minutes. It is quite a steep climb, and you get a spectacular view if you are brave enough to look down.
The difference in temperature at the top was extraordinary. We all huddled in our jackets and tried to find a spot out of the wind. The audio guide explained much of what we were able to see. It is amazing to think that Gibraltar has been under siege a total of 15 times and yet it has remained British since 1704. It was only in 1982 that land access into Spain was reopened as a condition imposed upon Spain in joining the EU.
Descending down the rock, we were in the car once more bound for Tarifa where Gemma and Gareth would embark on their Africa run. The coastal drive was just beautiful, and we have been having such splendid weather which definitely helps. Yesterday, Gareth had booked a one-day tour to Tangier. Having prepared Gemma for the absolute worst, they set off.
The crossing only takes 40 minutes, and as mentioned previously, you can see Morocco out the window. The port in Tangier was just buzzing. Apparently the Head of State will be arriving in a few days to bless the new port so there was much activity, cleaning, erecting flags and so on.
Our tour group was quite small. Luckily for us, there was a family of five from Spain and two Dutch girls. Gareth dubbed the family as the "sacrificial lambs," as basically everywhere we went, the family bought something or bore the brunt of the street sellers. Children are such an easy target. Would not recommend taking your children here unless you could rely on them not to reach out and touch anything that is offered to them. You know that once it has been touched it is as good as sold.
We wound our way up through the new part of the city to a hill on the outskirts where there were camel rides. Neither Gareth nor Gemma actually went for a ride but the others did. Great view of the city with the sea beyond though. Next was a quick walk through the ancient part of the city and then into a Moroccan restaurant for lunch. The restaurant was actually really nice: very brightly coloured with low tables and cushions. Gemma ate her first chicken soup in a while here and then we made the children laugh by saying 'vegeteriano' when the beef shish-kebabs came out. The restaurant was actually nice though and whipped us up a vegetarian version of the couscous. Baklava for dessert that actually tasted more like an Indian gelabi but still delicious.
After lunch, more shopping. Gareth had warned of this so we weren't surprised. We do think the family were a little more surprised. First a carpet shop. Go Australia being too far away for once as it provides a fairly good excuse as to why purchasing a massive rug is not practical. Next came a spice/cosmetic shop where we were exposed to some of the spices that make Moroccan food so unique. There were also creams and oils that could cure just about everything. Who knew that eucalyptus leaves could fix asthma, viral upper respiratory tract infections and stop you snoring! We made our token purchase for the day here: some rose cream for Mum.
Winding our way through the tiny lanes in a group makes you such an easy target for the street sellers. By the end of the day, the family of five were pretty much ready to lose it. Clearly they had had enough of the bombardment and so the port and the boat back to Spain were a welcome sight. We really haven't scratched the surface of Morocco. It would really be an interesting place to explore a little more.
The boat ride home was relatively smooth when we eventually left. Four extra stamps for the passport today, and Morocco took up a whole page. Mum sent through her text message while we were still making the crossing, letting us know that the border people were just mad!
Driving back to Gibraltar, the lights on the water were just beautiful. The rock can be seen for miles and miles away. Dinner was in a very organic restaurant with great food. So nice to have a menu in English, even if it is very short-lived.
Part 2 - Amber and David
Night location: London, England
Due to waking up to a brilliant blue sky, we decided that today we would take a ride on the London Eye. The London Eye was installed in the year 2000 as a temporary attraction, but being so popular, it was decided that the London Eye would be a permanent fixture on the banks of the Thames River. Essentially a fancy ferris wheel, it is made up of pods that can hold approximately 20 people and takes around 30 minutes to complete one rotation without stopping. We leapt aboard our pod and were fortunate to have a pod that was really only half full. Aside from the view, the most fascinating activity took place within the pod as a group of three women posed and took photos of themselves for the entire trip. One would stand and pose, while the others admired and took the photo, then the others would pose, and so on. All possible angles, shots, smiles and hair tossing were covered. Interestingly though, when someone else in the pod asked one of them to take their picture, two of the three girls tried and failed, so the third girl gave it her best shot. Soon after, the couple decided to just take their own photo!
Next stop was the British Museum. What a fantastic experience. Free admission meant that paying five pounds for an audio guide sounded reasonable, and away we went. The audio guide comes complete with its own range of personal tours so we picked the Parthenon tour and soon after had learned about Greek traditions, sculpture and worship. After this tour we wandered through the wings around us and coincidentally stumbled upon the Black Obelisk, famous for having an engraving of King Jehu of Israel paying tribute to Shalmanesar III of Assyria. I teach a unit on Ancient Israel and have examined this source at length with my Ancient History students so this was truly a highlight for me.
The museum offers a range of free guided tours throughout the day so we joined a small group and learned more about Ancient Egyptians. The guide was very knowledgeable so both David and I walked away having learned many new things. On our audio guide there was another Ancient Egypt tour so we completed that also. The Rosetta Stone was the highlight of this tour. Such an impressive inscription. From this monument, historians were able to decode hieroglyphs and this opened the way to understanding the Ancient Egyptian culture.
A few purchases were made at the Museum shop along with some not so sneaky pictures of the recipe to my favourite Laduree tart that we found in a Laduree recipe book. Rather amusing given that we had three attempts, and still have not got the complete recipe! From the museum we headed back to our hotel for a rest. Dinner was at a vegetarian restaurant in Soho and this ended our day nicely.